A few additions to last week’s Sunday Joint on Pat Curren, who died two weeks ago today. From Joe Curren’s Instagram: “We said goodbye to my dad on Sunday, January 22nd, in North County San Diego. His family, including all of his kids, and most of his grandkids were at his side when he passed. We are all going to miss him.” Unverified, but from a source close to the family, Pat was reportedly watching the Eddie-Waimea livestream not long before he died.
Somebody out there reminded me that Pat is one of the khaki-wearing surfers on the 1959 photo used for the cover of History of Surfing, checking out the empty lineup at Yokohama. That’s Pat you see in the middle photo, below, on the left, all bones and sinew. The huskier khaki-wearing surfer on the right is San Diego’s John Elwell, Curren’s lifelong surf pal, who died last year at age 89. The two men are also seen here in this après-spear-fishing shot, drinks in hand, probably taken the same year, in front of Elwell’s OG shaggin’ wagon.
For a 2002 Surfer’s Journal article recalling his early years on the North Shore, Elwell offered the photo you see above of Curren sprinting out of a field with a huge grin and a stolen pineapple. It also includes a letter Pat mailed to John, in 1960, written on the back of a sheet of sandpaper. The letter reads, in part:
Makaha was never real huge but we had an 18–20' day. Sunset was below par but Laniakea and Waimea made up for it. The big day at Waimea, it closed out as the last two guys came in; one guy got stuck in the rip for an hour and a half. I have a chance to get a part-time job on a catamaran. I’d like to work that into full-time.
Elwell winds the article up thusly: “I chuckle and remember Curren’s summation of the past: ‘We were really lucky to be born when we were.’ I would add that we will probably be lucky to die when we do.”
Thank you to Tim Marmack of Maui for helping me fill in a blank or two on Laguna Beach lifeguard Bob Bermel, who was with Curren and a half-dozen other surfers the day Waimea was first ridden. That’s Bermel you see in the upper-left of the photo grid, top of the page, along with Greg Noll, Mickey Muñoz, and Mike Stange. As far as I can tell, eight surfers rode Waimea that day, and if Del Cannon always came off as the least likely of the group, Bermel did the best job at vanishing from the surf scene, as he quietly moved to Maui where he tended bar, worked construction, dove for coral, and turned his Olinda property—just down the road from where Jimi Hendrix played his Rainbow Bridge concert—into a tropical paradise. Bermel died two months before Curren, at age 85.
Memento Mori—“Remember that you will die”—as the Latin hecklers are always reminding us, but get lost Plato, I’ve had enough death these past couple of Joints, so let us now together turn and smile in the general direction of the the feisty and still very much alive Dorothy De Rooy, four-time New South Wales state champ and, along with Phyllis O’Donell, the first female Aussie surfer of note. Here’s a bit from the De Rooy interview I just posted.
What was Narrabeen Girls High School like?
There was a conservative side to it, but there was also a kind of St. Trinians side too. I was more conservative and even managed to become a Prefect, but there was always this lure of surfing; I just could not get it out of my system. I should really have put my head down and studied, but I just threw myself into surfing.
Did you have to get a council sticker [a license] for your board?
Yes, I did. They would confiscate the boards of those who didn’t have one. They were also measuring the width of our bikinis too. It was prehistoric!
The equipment was so different back then.
It really was. Wetsuits were just coming in. In one competition I won a wetsuit and had to go down to Brookvale for a fitting, I must have been about 15. I took Marilyn with me. What I ended up with was basically a man’s wetsuit with seams into it for the female chest, and it was like one of those exaggerated bras Madonna used to wear onstage; it was so uncomfortable and so unwieldy and so thick—nothing like the suits they have now.
That’s 17-year-old De Rooy you see in this 1966 Australian Broadcast Company newsreel, patiently rebutting a group of furrow-browed Sydney surfies concerned about the lineup “clutter” caused by female wave-riders, and the risk of girls developing “muscles in the wrong spots.” The first two or three times I watched this clip I thought De Rooy had maybe accidentally invented babe feminism by showing up on the beach in white lipstick, which had been popular in the US a couple of years earlier but was probably just arriving Down Under at this time, and good for Dorothy for being so fashion-forward and political. Then I realized it’s just a well-applied dab of zinc. Or is it? Diana Ross wore it better but only because Diana Ross never didn’t wear it better.
Longtime EOS subscriber Nick VB emailed last week with a story about his introduction to surf literature. This took place in the mid-’70s, in Los Gatos, about a half-hour northeast of Santa Cruz. Nick, 15 at the time of the story, takes it from there:
A friend mentioned that he’d just read Phil Edwards’ autobiography You Should Have Been Here an Hour Ago and really liked it, and I figured I’d better read it myself since I’m such a hardcore surfer. So I head down to my hometown public library. After looking through the sports section without any luck, I go to the reference desk to ask the librarian.
Me: I’m looking for a book about surfing, written by Phil Edwards.
Librarian (without looking up): It’s in the children’s section.
Me: Yeah but this book isn’t a child. . . .
Librarian (looks up sternly): ALL surfing books are in the children’s section!
Thanks for reading, everybody, and see you next week.
[Photo grid, clockwise from top left: Greg Noll, Bob Bermel, Mickey Muñoz, Mike Stange, first day at Waimea, 1957; Pat Curren; Dorothy De Rooy; Jimi Hendrix, Rainbow Bridge concert; the children’s section at the library; Phil Edwards by Bruce Brown. John Elwell and Pat Curren in front of van. Curren and Elwell at Yokohama, by John Severson. Curren stealing a pineapple, by Elwell. Jimi Hendrix in Maui. Dorothy De Rooy and Diana Ross. Phil Edwards black-and-white by John Severson]